Sunday 18 February 2018

Interiors: We've got it covered

Make a statement with printed bed sheets or duvets you can doodle on

Pug dog duvet cover from Hickeys
Pug dog duvet cover from Hickeys
Bluebell grey Nevis bed linen from
Explorer duvet at Hickeys
Rise and Shine duvet set from Hickeys
The Eat, Sleep, Doodle duvet cover
Helen McAlinden

I'm not a duvet native. I grew up between ironed sheets and a thick wool blanket. The blankets came from Foxford and had either a blue or a pink striped border. On top of this was a candlewick bedspread or something known as an 'eiderdown' - a slippery and moveable quilt that invariably ended up on the floor.

The making of the bed was quite a business as the bedclothes had to be untangled, layered and folded, and then tucked in tight at the corners. I never really got the hang of it. My exasperated mother used to explain that a bed should look inviting to get in to. Mine always looked like someone had just crawled out of it.

Duvets, which required just a quick shake, were a revelation. They arrived in our house in the late 1970s. We called them "continental quilts" and never looked back. Now, duvets are the default option, but there seem to be two schools of thought regarding the covers. Some say the duvet is the biggest blank canvas in the bedroom and that it's a shame not to have some fun with it. Others find they rest easier in a bed that isn't trying to make a statement.

Novelty duvet covers are not a particularly expensive way of changing the look of the room. People who dream of travel might be attracted by the Explorer duvet set from Home Focus at Hickeys (currently €26.10 for a double, including pillowcases). It's a simple print of a map of Europe spread over the surface of the bed. They also have Alfonso hipster-themed bed linen (€33.75 for a double duvet set) featuring top hats, magnifying glasses and moustaches, and a retro-floral Rise and Shine duvet set (€40.50 for a double).

My favourite novelty bedding comes from England where Eat Sleep Doodle are now producing bed linen that you can draw on. "I love to work in bed and I wanted a duvet cover that I could take notes on," says the company's founder, Chrissie Probert Jones. Each duvet cover (€77 for a double) is printed to look like a giant sheet of file paper and comes with a set of 10 brightly coloured pens. The duvet cover itself is simply cotton and the ink washes out completely in a 40 degree cycle. "They're a great present for young people going to university," says Probert Jones. "We had someone send us a video of a student who had lost his voice and used his pillowcase to explain to his friends that he couldn't speak or go to lectures. I use mine to write down the things that I think of during the night, but we've sold them to people who compose music on them." Pillowcases cost €21 each.

Novelty bedding isn't for everyone and many people prefer to tuck down between plain white sheets.

"A bed needs to be interesting but not so distracting that you can't see yourself getting in to it," says Helen McAlinden, who has designed homeware for Foxford for the past 10 years and has recently added bed linen to the range. Her sheets and duvet covers come in a muted palette of grey, aqua and bone, with occasional splashy floral prints. A double duvet cover in high quality cotton costs €95 from Arnotts.

"There's a great deal of talk about thread counts but you can get sheets with a high thread count in carded cotton, which has a much coarser fibre than the combed cotton that we use. You'll know the difference when you sleep in it." Foxford also produces a pure linen range in white, parma blue and silver grey (from €126 for a double duvet cover).

"Linen is one of the top trends across Europe. It's a wonderfully soft fibre and cool to sleep on, and it has a slightly rustic dishevelled look." Most importantly, the new generation of linen has been treated so that it doesn't need ironing.

Foxford Woollen Mills has been based in Mayo since the 1890s, when it was established by the Sisters of Charity as a way of creating employment. The company's current CEO, Joe Queenan, joined the company in the late 1980s and found it much in need of reinvention.

"Foxford was caught by the advent of the duvet," he says. "A big part of its sale was blankets." Personally, I've a deep affection for those old Foxford blankets, scratchy though they were. Sometimes they turn up on Etsy, where vintage enthusiasts have transformed the iconic blue or pink striped borders into nostalgic woolly cushions.

Now, Foxford have a range of contemporary designs in woollen homeware as well as bed linen.

"Our main colours reflect the colours of the Mayo countryside. There's a lot of grey going on out there and the clouds are part of us. Those are the colours that we see every day, so the things that we make are true to where we're coming from," says Queenan. "We're very conscious of who we are but we want to project the modern version of that."

In the 1940s, Foxford employed 250 people - now it employs 53, most of them in Mayo.

"It shows that we can make things happen in Ireland. Even traditional object-based industries can do well, given the proper approach. We were told we were the industries of the setting sun but there is a future for us," Queenan says. "It may be an old traditional Irish company, but it doesn't have to look like one."

For more information on the products listed in this piece, visit,,,

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